The Bush administration will approve a new regulation that will allow mountaintop removal to continue and expand, in an effort to encourage mining companies to increase output to meet increased demand, reports John M. Broder. The new rule, drafted by the Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department, would require only “that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law,” Broder writes.
That “environmental harm” is at the forefront of the mountaintop-removal debate, since the mining generates tons of waste that must be deposited somewhere, usually in valleys and headwater streams near mines
Broder's story is a good summary of a complex issue, but he slips on at least one point, saying that the environmental impact statement for the rule says that under it, "another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018." The streams that are buried don't come close to being rivers. (Read more)
Likewise, an otherwise good graphic with the story says, "Coal companies are supposed to reclaim land, but native trees have trouble growing on disturbed topsoil." That implies that only restoration of forest would accomplish reclamation. The law requires only "vegetative cover," and that typically is grass -- although recent research has found that with less soil compaction, trees can be more easily grown on mined land.